LAKELAND, Fla. -- JaCoby Jones didn't exactly call it. That would have been arrogant. But he thought it.
As he walked into Spring Training with Tigers officials insisting he needed more time at Triple-A Toledo to develop, especially to become a more disciplined hitter, he had other ideas.
"I came into Spring Training, in my mind, knowing that I'm the center fielder of the Detroit Tigers," Jones said in mid-March. "Every day I wake up and come to the field, I just want to show them that I'm ready to be the Opening Day guy, and I want to be there all year."
As he sat in the clubhouse this week at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium, watching the lockers empty, he didn't want to risk assumptions or jinx himself. But the excitement was growing.
"I feel like I had a good spring," Jones said Wednesday. "I feel like when I went to the [Arizona] Fall League working on my approach and playing center field, and then going out in the spring and having a pretty good spring, I've felt in my heart and my mind that I'm the center fielder. And every day I wake up coming to the field knowing that I'm the Tigers' center fielder. That's how I think. I've had a good spring so far and hopefully I can keep it up and hopefully I can break camp."
The roster isn't final yet, and might not be until Sunday's deadline to leave the possibility of a waiver pickup or other move. But with Steven Moya outrighted to Triple-A Toledo, J.D. Martinez on the Disabled List and the roster down to 25 players, there's good reason for Jones to think he's now the Tigers' center fielder.
And with the White Sox starting left-hander Jose Quintana on Monday, Jones has reason to believe he'll be the Opening Day center fielder, too. It would be his eighth Major League start, and he'd be the first Tigers rookie to start in center on Opening Day since Austin Jackson in 2010.
Jackson changed the Tigers' minds when he won the job that spring. Jones has opened eyes in this one.
"We kind of knew what [Jones] was," manager Brad Ausmus said. "I think he's hit the ball a little bit more consistently than maybe we thought he was capable of at this point. He's very athletic. We knew he was a very good center fielder. He can run the bases; a very instinctive baserunner.
"In that sense, he hasn't really surprised us, but I think he shows what he can bring to a team when he's in the lineup, especially on the bases. We're a team that's in many cases base-to-base, and he's one of those guys that forces the outfielders to go after balls, because if they don't, he's going to take the extra base."
In that sense, he's the closest the Tigers could come to replacing Cameron Maybin with a similar player -- not just in terms of speed, but energy. And while Ausmus said defense is a bigger factor now with Martinez out and his offense difficult to replace, the energy doesn't hurt.
"There's no question speed makes it look like there's more energy," Ausmus said. "But [Jones is] young and got a lot of life in his body. I think that all adds to the energy factor, and I think sometimes that's good for a team when you have veteran players, because veteran players are so used to the length of the season that they become a little bit numb to the day-in and day-out. A young kid can bring some energy back."
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.